Tour shows possibilities of Longboat's outdoor venue site
Commissioners, staff, public take a walk to see the three-dimensional reality of on-paper proposals.
| 8:20 a.m. June 4, 2019
Why did the Town Commission cross the road?
To get to the other side . . . of an issue its seven members, town staff and citizens have been discussing and dissecting since early this year.
So, after a series of admonishments about open-government law on Monday morning, off they all went, out the Town Hall front door, down the steps, across the street and around the 4.8-acre parcels destined to one day become an outdoor venue, and perhaps more. The idea was to get a three-dimensional look at what until now had been a largely two-dimensional concept and begin to consider the range of possibilities.
Room for a stage, either permanent or portable someday? Maybe.
Pickleball courts? Possibly.
Constructed facilities, such as bathrooms or a promenade walk? A building or some kind, possibly to house arts, culture and educational assets? It could happen.
But the point of Public Works Director Isaac Brownman's tour of the land between the Public Tennis Center and the Shoppes of Bay Isles wasn't to build an itemized wish list. Rather, it was to help people understand the dimensions and proportions of the land and the work to be done to even create a basic first step. Before he led the group around the site, pointing out key features and connecting a site-plan map to the reality of landscape, he reminded everyone to focus on the initial plans for now.
"Right now, we're looking at some minimal, as much as possible, minimal improvements just to get the thing used as an outdoor venue, a community center, a grass area,'' he said, adding the town is hoping to complete the final 40% of permitting and design soon, and perhaps launch construction early enough to enable the basic use of an open lawn by late 2019 or early 2020.
A preliminary site plan for the property, which includes the former Amore restaurant land and an adjacent town-owned parcel, calls for a generally bowl shaped stabilized lawn of bahia grass, encircled by existing and new sidewalks and shell drives, which connect in several places to existing walks, drives and about 80 parking spaces that once served Amore.
Additional proposals include an area of crushed shell in the southeastern corner, which connects to the former restaurant’s parking area.
That parking area is retained in the proposal, though resealed and striped, along with the circular driveway that once led to the Amore’s front door.
A stormwater pond is proposed from the northwestern corner meandering toward the center of the property, though the exact shape hasn't been nailed down. Many existing trees would remain, though some would have to go. Many nuisance trees, such as the invasive Brazilian pepper, would be removed.
Before the tour, commissioners saw conceptual views from Hoyt Architects that showed some examples of possibilities for the future, but Brownman made clear these were not specific proposals. Once the initial green space was set, public input would be solicited for what might come next, and how to pay for it. The architects also supplied site plans with basic footprints of 10,000 square foot and 20,000 square foot buildings to see how much green space might be leftover.
Former mayor Jim Brown was among those walking the tour, and said the presentation demonstrated the potential of the site. "I would urge the commission not to try do design this facility,'' he said. "Put that in the hands of the town manager, the public works director and those consultants they hire. Then let the commission decide what they like or don't like.''
Brown also echoed one of the recurring themes — to avoid building anything that might get in the way later.
"There are many things that can be done inexpensively,'' Brown said, adding portable — and nice — restrooms, dressing rooms or other facilities can be brought in for events, rather than building them.
Commissioner Jack Daly urged the commission to "start the ball rolling" to get the short-term goals accomplished and keep focusing on the long-term goals for the site, which could include an arts center. Mayor George Spoll said he was "100% committed to a long-term solution in the way of a reborn arts center.''
He also reiterated the need to proceed cautiously with plans to build permanent features without thinking through the ultimate uses.
"I don't think we know what we want to do in total,'' he said of the plans beyond the initial steps and to continue the discussion. He even suggested limiting development of the initial step to the Amore site before considering the other adjoining parcel to possibly save some money.
The Amore demolition was paid for by a Sarasota County $400,000 grant, spending about $120,000 to do the work and $55,000 for construction documents and permitting, leaving about $225,000.
Lenny Landau, who also took the tour, and said it's been years since the land was purchased and the time has come to get something moving.
"Everything always seems to work in slow motion," he said. "My vision and hope is that we could do something quickly, so that come next season, there's something here that we didn't have before. We're not talking about big productions. I don't expect Shakespeare or some play. You know, maybe we have somebody who comes and plays guitar, everybody comes down there on Friday nights and sings or dances or does whatever they do.''